Sports betting has been legal in Illinois for more than two years since Gov. JB Pritzker signed a massive gaming expansion bill in June 2019. People around the state have been wagering both in person and online, quickly raising the national sports betting profile of Illinois as it has generated more than $4.6 billion in handle since March 2020 and ranked No. 2 nationally among states in both April and May.
There is a technicality, however, that needs to be addressed relating to sports wagering in the city of Chicago. The “home-rule” ban currently in place prevents teams from constructing sportsbooks near their venues. Among the city’s professional teams, only the Cubs are on track to build one after reaching a partnership deal with DraftKings last September that will eventually include a sportsbook near iconic Wrigley Field.
Chicago Alderman Walter Burnett, whose 27th Ward most notably includes the United Center — home to the NBA’s Bulls and NHL’s Blackhawks — introduced an ordinance during Wednesday’s City Council meeting that would lift the ban on sports betting. It would allow the city to set parameters for those establishments and collect license fees for authorizing wagering.
“All [the city’s] venues have suffered from the pandemic,” Burnett said. “I’m just getting the ball rolling. We want to help them get a leg up. It gives us an opportunity to help them.”
Who is included and license costs
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), whose Near West Side ward includes the United Center, introduced an ordinance that would lift Chicago’s home-rule ban on sports betting.https://t.co/MK7lbIAqzw
— Sun-Times Sports (@suntimes_sports) July 22, 2021
Burnett’s nine-page ordinance would authorize sports wagering at the city’s five sports venues — Wrigley Field, the United Center, Guaranteed Rate Field (White Sox), Soldier Field (Bears), and Wintrust Arena (the WNBA’s Sky) — or in a “permanent building or structure” located within a five-block radius.
The Bears are the only team besides the Cubs with a sportsbook deal currently in place, having made BetRivers the team’s exclusive sportsbook partner last month. There is also legislation awaiting state Senate approval that would make Wintrust Arena eligible to apply for a sports facility sports wagering license. That bill, SB 521, is a larger sports wagering package that would also allow some forms of wagering on in-state colleges and universities.
Burnett’s ordinance would initially charge $50,000 for a Master Sports Wagering license holder to obtain a city license and then $25,000 for annual renewal. A licensed Management Services Provider — operators who offer mobile sports wagering — would pay $10,000 for an initial license that can be renewed for $5,000 annually.
“The United Center was used to help people get vaccinated, which was a big plus for the city,” the alderman said, noting the venues would receive funding via amusement tax and sales tax. “It was used in a myriad of ways — pass out food, pass out sanitizers, masks, elections. Things that helped the public without getting any money. This gives them a level playing field.
The ordinance places a limit of 15 kiosks and betting windows at a venue if it does not provide the opportunity for bettors to purchase food and drink. Wagering would be prohibited from midnight until 10 a.m. on Monday through Thursday; midnight Friday until 9 a.m. Saturday; and from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The grinding wheels of government intervene
The ordinance, which was referred to a pair of joint committees made up of members of the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards and the members of the Committee on License and Consumer Protection and the Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety, was stopped from moving forward by Alderman Anthony Beale.
He inquired when the ordinance was submitted to the city clerk’s office. When told it was submitted at 8 p.m. Tuesday, he asked that the ordinance be removed from consideration, citing the cutoff time of 10 p.m. Monday for submissions. When informed the deadline was an office policy and not a rule, Beale invoked a parliamentary procedure to send the ordinance to the city’s Rules Committee.
Burnett, though, did not seem all that bothered by the rerouting of his proposal.
“The biggest difference [now] is all the alderman have vote,” he said while also pointing out he expects there to be lobbying in both directions from the sporting venues as well as the casinos. “Which is fine, we want everyone to be engaged in conversation.”
The bill also allows for sports wagering inside a casino, something that could provide fodder for debate since the downtown area was one of six sites identified to host a future casino in Pritzker’s bill.
The office of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is currently accepting requests for proposals (RFPs) and has a target date of 2025 for a potential casino opening. Lightfoot, who has been an active proponent of bringing a casino to the third-largest city in the United States, appeared unconcerned about the possibility that sports betting would cut into potential casino revenue.
“First of all, sports book is the law of our state,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times. “That got passed by the General Assembly in 2019. I support that law. No, I do not believe that it will undercut our efforts on a future casino, and we’re gonna make sure that it doesn’t.”